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The 7 deadly sins of instant messaging

I heart instant messaging, but I heart it too much. If you're a chat addict like me, you understand the lure. It's convenient, connecting you to faraway buddies with little cost. It's safe, releasing you from the worry of looking pretty or sounding sexy. And its deliciously fun. How can you not love video effects, screensharing, and presentation-hosting in Leopard's iChat?

Despite the benefits, instant messaging can turn you into a mindless chat drone. Too much chatting replaces real interactions and, soon, people turn into pixels.

To bring richer conversations back into your life, here are 7 bad chatting habits to stop right now. I've formatted them as a "not-to-do" list:

  1. Do not use it
    It's hard to envision, but life without IM is possible. Remember the phone? Remember face-to-face conversations? They still exist.

  2. Do not make yourself available 24/7
    If you really can't let go of chat, designate IM office hours. Limit yourself to two hours maximum a day and give yourself a curfew. You'll get fewer interruptions and maybe even get to bed earlier. Remember, not chatting every moment means you'll have more to talk about when you see your friends again.

  3. Do not expect a response
    After sending someone an IM, never expect a quick response or any at all. The beauty of IM is that it lets you have "slow conversations," allowing people to respond whenever they want.

  4. Do not send urgent requests
    Just because someone is online at 2am doesn't mean that person is available for a work or family emergency. If you're not willing to make a phone call, then maybe it's not a real emergency.

  5. Do not be a buddy slut
    Is your buddy list as long as Heidi Fleiss's black book? According to the Pareto principle, you spend 80 percent of your chat time with 20 percent of your buddies. Identify the buddies you don't chat with anymore and delete them. If your buddy list is still overflowing, organize them into groups by level of importance or frequency of conversations.

  6. Do not broadcast your screen name
    Never ever put your screen name on a website, blog, or social networking profile. This keeps your buddy list short and prevents stalkers from creeping you out.

  7. Do not forward chat messages to your phone
    AOL Instant Messenger now lets you forward IM messages you receive to your phone when you're not at a computer. I call this the electronic dog leash feature. If you have it on, turn it off now. Free yourself, run wild, and go play.

Am I missing other deadly sins? What terrible chat habits are you overcoming?

tarsi210's picture

Just Like a Cell Phone

I treat IM just like my cell phone -- it is for MY convenience, not yours. If I don't want to answer it, I won't. If you have to speak to voicemail and leave a message, deal with it. The problem is that people accept the instantaneous nature of modern electronics as their obligation to respond to any inquiry, essentially making us slave to the devices instead of master of a handy tool.

Sure, I can agree that once I start a conversation with you on IM, I do expect that you'll respond in a timely manner, unless we're making random commentary or you specifically sign off. My time is valuable, too, and I try to return the courtesy to others. But don't expect me to be there or actually answer it when I am just because I'm online. I have other things in life than my IM contacts.

It's all a matter of what you accept and allow, I figure. Control your life -- not the other way around. :)




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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